Expansion Set

This year, for the first time ever, we're planning to have Christmas in our own house. It's been a whole thing, involving lots of discussing and hemming and hawing (mostly by me), planning and forecasting, and taking stock of what he have and what we need. It turned out that one thing we needed was a new dining table, since our old one really only sat four people comfortably. We took a quick jaunt to the furniture store on Saturday morning, and by the time Jason woke up from his nap Sunday afternoon, it was delivered and in place.

Jason is a little unpredictable when it comes to sudden changes, so I wasn't sure whether he'd be excited, indifferent, or enraged about the new table. Fortunately, it seems to have gone over pretty well. In fact, he seems quite taken with it.

Sunday evening when we sat down to dinner, I said to Jason, "Can you say thank you to Mommy for making dinner?"

"Thank you, Mommy, make dinner," he said. Then, totally unprompted, he turned to me and said, "Thank you, Daddy, my table."

"Um, you're welcome," I replied. "Do you like the new table?"


In fact, he likes it so much that every meal thereafter he has thanked one or both of us for the new table. I tell you what, I could get used to this.



This is another one of the performers from Steam Powered Giraffe. This one's character is called Upgrade.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 165mm, aperture f/5.3, shutter 1/160 sec, ISO 200. I added a similar blurred overlay layer in Photoshop CS5 to enhance contrast and give it that soft glow, but I also used a layer mask to apply it just to the midtones. (Duplicate layer, apply Gaussian blur with radius 5, set layer mode to overlay, apply layer mask, apply image to layer mask, solarize layer mask, move layer mask white point to the left, flatten image.) After that, I used the vignetting tool in Aperture 3 to darken the background. This left her coat too dark, so I brushed the adjustment out of the bottom of the picture.

Thoughts for improvement: This looks pretty good on my laptop, but on my work monitor (which is dark and uncalibrated) it's way too dark. I should probably have increased the brightness or exposure in post, or just had a better exposure to begin with.

Weekend a la Dooce

You know what might be a fun idea? Just for tonight, I'm going to try writing this post as if I were Heather Armstrong. I figure, she must know what she's doing, what with her sponsorships and millions of pageviews and no day job, so what the heck? Let's give it a shot.


Weekends in the Sakasegawa household are a constant game of "Stay Ahead of the Tantrum." If you don't have kids, you've probably never played this game, which is a shame because it's only the BEST. GAME. EVER. The rules are simple: you and your spouse are given an unspecified amount of time to try to come up with some way of keeping your toddler occupied and amused. If you succeed, you get to start over again. If you fail, you get to enjoy the company of your toddler, except that your toddler has been replaced with a coked-up half-Tasmanian Devil, half-banshee that only knows how to scream I WANT MILK and throw things.

So this weekend we decided to go to Balboa Park on Sunday afternoon because there was a dance festival happening and we thought Jason might like to see it. The way we figured it, he'd either like it or he'd be a good example to all the teenagers of what can happen if you don't wear a condom. Besides, we needed to get him out of the house, if only to give the dog a break from having all of his tail hair pulled out.

I mean, really, if anybody deserves to have a quiet afternoon of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives reruns and licking his empty nutsack, it's Cooper. Dude puts up with enough.

Right. So we got there just in time to see a bunch of really nice-looking kids from one of the local dance schools start their show, during which Juliette and I whispered to each other about how probably none of them were going to be making it to the finals of So You Think You Can Dance any time soon. (KIDDING.) When the first dance was over, I turned my head just in time to see Jason starting to shift around in his stroller, and I'm thinking OH MY GOD, HERE IT COMES and just waiting for his head to start spinning around.

Except, what he actually did was clap and say "Yay!" And kept sitting there. And sitting there. For an hour. Just watching and clapping. Mind you, this is the kid who can't make it through a whole episode of Sesame Street before he starts yelling DON'T LIKE ABBY FAIRY SCHOOL.

I said to Juliette that we needed to follow these dancers back to their school and take up residence in their studio and she was like, dude, you know dance studios don't usually have WiFi, right? And I was all, dude, WHATEVER TOTALLY WORTH IT.

I mean, really, you have to have your priorities straight in this life. Right? Right?

The Warded Man

By Peter V. Brett

Over the past couple of years I've developed a sort of book-sharing friendship with one of my co-workers. I lent him a couple of Neil Gaiman novels, and he lent me The Stone War. It's been working out pretty well for both of us.

I'd recently let him borrow my copy of Cordelia's Honor, and a couple of days later he stopped by my desk.

"Have you read The Warted Man yet?" he asked, a note of excitement in his voice.

"Warted Man?" I repeated. "Nope, don't think so."

"I'll bring it in tomorrow," he said. "I think you'll like it."

Of course, it turned out that I had misheard him, and what he had actually said was Warded, not Warted, which makes for a pretty different mental image. Happily, I hadn't read (or even heard of) that one either, so I put it into the queue.

He was right, I did like it.

In The Warded Man--author Peter Brett's debut novel--humanity struggles for survival in a world where demons called "corelings" rise from the earth every night, destroying everything they come across. The only protection offered comes in the form of wards--magical symbols painted onto homes and city walls that repel the corelings. There is no other way to stay safe, no way to fight back, and when someone is caught outside after sunset--or, worse, when the wards on their home fail--death is swift and terrible.

Against this backdrop, we are introduced to three young characters from three different towns, between whom the narrative skips back and forth. Arlen, a boy whose rage at losing his mother to the corelings while his father cowered in fear drove him to strike out on his own to find a way to fight back against the night. Leesha, a Healer's apprentice who becomes an outcast in her village after her fiancé lies about having slept with her. Rojer, raised by a Jongleur--this world's equivalent of a traveling minstrel--after his village is destroyed by corelings. We follow these three through their youth and into young adulthood as they each uncover hidden talents that may help turn the tide against the corelings.

Because it's the first episode in a series, much of The Warded Man works to establish the backstory of the characters and give you a peek into the world in which they toil. Indeed, about the first two-thirds of the book fall into this category, with things not really picking up until near the end. You'd think that would make the book feel slow and uneventful, but rather than relying on exposition, Brett instead largely focuses on the characters' individual stories, giving us only glimpses at the larger world and its history. The result was a book that was hard for me to put down once I got going.

If I had to make a comparison to other works, the closest I can think of might be Terry Brooks' Shannara series, which also features a fallen world in which dark forces run loose. But Brooks had a tendency to rely pretty heavily on cliché--in fact, the entire first book of that series is blatantly derivative of The Lord of the Rings, and though over the course of the next several books he sort of grew into a more compelling writer, I'm not sure I would really put him in the top tier of epic fantasy authors. Brett, on the other hand, seems fresher in his approach to the genre, and although the novel starts out a little stylistically thin, it continues to develop with the characters--a trick that made me suspect that Brett is a better writer than I had initially guessed--and there's also enough content to pull you in anyway.

The only real negative experience I had with The Warded Man was in not discovering that it was part of a series until I was three-quarters of the way through the book. I hate having to wait for new episodes, so I usually prefer to wait until a series is complete (or at least mostly complete) before starting. Based on the strength of this first volume, though, I think I'll just have to suck it up and wait for the sequels, because it seems like they'll be worth my time.

Started: 7/25/2010 | Finished: 7/29/2010

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I was itching to get out and shoot yesterday, so we decided to check out the Celebrate Dance Festival that was taking place in Balboa Park this weekend. One of the first things we saw was a group called Steam Powered Giraffe, a "musical pantomime troupe" that wasn't, as far as I could tell, actually part of the festival. They do a sort of "singing robots" act that Jason loved. I got this shot of one of the performers--whose character's name is Rabbit--in between a couple of their songs.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/100 sec, ISO 200. I bumped the exposure a bit and cropped to 4x5 in Aperture 3. In Photoshop CS5, I added a blurred overlay layer to increase contrast and give it a bit of of that painterly, glowy feel (duplicate layer, set blending mode to overlay, apply Gaussian blur with radius 5, reduce opacity to 50%, flatten) then sharpened with a high-pass overlay (duplicate layer, apply high-pass filter with radius 5, set blending mode to overlay, reduce opacity to 80%, flatten).

Thoughts for improvement: I probably should have upped the ISO, as the shot was pretty severely underexposed. I'm also not completely sure about using an overlay diffusion and sharpening--I like the way it turned out, but the two might be working at cross purposes.

Toy Story 3

I heard today that Toy Story 3 recently passed the billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office sales, making it a member of a very exclusive club--only six other films in history have done that. And, despite the fact that the movie is now over two months old, it's still in first-run theaters and still apparently chugging along. My local cineplex still has three showtimes for it.

What with the movie being pretty old at this point, rather than doing a normal review, I'd like to take the opportunity to meld in a topic that I've been thinking about a lot lately: coming to movies after the hype.

Obviously, at this point we're way after the hype for Toy Story 3, but even though I saw the movie almost four weeks ago now, that was also still far enough after the premiere that I couldn't help but be aware of the huge buzz about the film. That's just how it goes for my wife and I now that we're parents; we see movies late, if at all. On the one hand, it's good for us, because we see so few movies nowadays that we want to make sure we get the most out of our time at the theaters. We just can't waste time with the mediocre ones the way we used to.

On the other hand, though, it also means that it's more or less impossible for us to see a movie without being biased. Of course, now that every movie is previewed and reviewed inside and out for months before it debuts, almost nobody actually goes to see a movie without any preconceptions. But back when we saw 50 or 60 movies in a year, we'd see them before most of our friends and before we knew that this movie was a flop or that one was a critical darling or this other one made a trillion dollars. Having all that information ahead of time can't help but influence the way you view a film.

Take Inception, for example. Everyone I know that saw that film came out discussing theories about what was really going on. None of them gave me any of those theories, of course, not wanting to spoil it for me, but just the fact that I knew that they were doing it meant that I watched that movie with an eye toward "figuring it out." Now, I generally do watch movies with a more analytical mindset than the average audience member, but this one had me examining things like themes and cinematography not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but also with the intention of unraveling some sort of secret. I still enjoyed it a lot, mind you, but I can't help but wonder what my reaction would have been had I seen it on opening night.

Similarly, with Toy Story 3, I went in with the knowledge that a huge percentage of my friends (both offline and on social networking sites) had talked about the fact that they cried at the end. So I knew that there was going to be a big emotional moment, and it absolutely changed the way I reacted to the plot and characters--there were several points in the film, for example, where my predictions about what was going to happen next were way off base. Even the fact that I was consciously making predictions in a movie that isn't about "figuring it out" says something.

And this brings me to the "review" portion of this post, because the fact that I knew what everyone else's reaction was, my tendency is to remove myself to a cool, analytical distance from the story and characters, one where I'm more likely to notice how a scene evokes an emotion than to actually experience the emotion for myself. So the fact that I was still hit hard by that emotional payoff and did cry, and that it came in such an unexpected and truly heartwrenching manner, that speaks volumes to the skill and talent of the filmmakers.

That I can still be amazed by what Pixar does, that I've come to the point where I can simultaneously take for granted that their films will be amazing and yet still be profoundly touched by them, that is something wonderful. With every new offering, Pixar keeps managing to bring me back to that place where film is new and exciting, where I remember what it is that keeps me coming back to theaters, and for that I cannot thank them enough.

Viewed: 7/27/2010 | Released: 6/18/2010 | Score: A

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My Latest at Life As A Human: The Most Photographed Child In The World

"The Most Photographed Child In The World":

If you are, like me, the parent of a young child and given to being a little shutter-happy with your camera, it’s quite possible that someone has referred to your son or daughter as “the most photographed child in the world.” I most often get it from my parents or in-laws, usually just after I’ve lifted the camera up to my eye. I was reflecting the other day on that phrase and it struck me that it’s kind of lost its meaning in the age of the digital camera.

Party Time!

Party Time!

Jason has had a near life-long obsession with hats, which has dovetailed nicely with his newfound interest in birthdays.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 320. Bumped vibrancy, added sharpening, and applied curves to set white point, boost midtones, and increase contrast. (All post-processing done in Aperture 3.)

Thoughts for improvement: I like the exposure and tones in this shot a lot, but the framing could use some work. If I had just leaned back a bit, the edges of the frame wouldn't be cutting off his elbows and the tip of his hat.

Who's That?

I'm just going to go ahead and come clean about this: I can be a horrible know-it-all. My head is stuffed with all manner of useless trivia, from ancient history to different standards of timekeeping. That guy at the party who's obnoxiously rambling on and on about some sliver of esoterica that nobody else in the room cares about? Yeah, that's me.

It's kind of ironic, then, that the most common answer I have to give to Jason's questions is "I don't know." Mind you, he's not asking me particularly profound or arcane questions. No, the most common thing he asks me these days is some variation on "Who's that?"

Everywhere we go, Jason wants to know who everybody is. At the mall, say, he'll point to some random stranger and ask who it is. Then when I tell him I don't know, he'll just move on to the next person and ask again.

"I don't know who everybody is, pal," I'll say to him. He'll cock his head and squint at me as he tries to process this revelation. I can see the little wheels turning in his head as he mulls over the idea that I don't have all the answers. Eventually he'll say "Oh, OK," then turn right around and ask who someone else is.

The funny thing is, he even asks about people when he already knows the answer. This evening when I picked him up from day care, for example, he pointed to a woman who had exited the building ahead of us, carrying her daughter to her car.

"Who mommy that?" he asked.

"I don't know whose mommy that is, buddy," I responded, recognizing neither the woman nor the girl in her arms.

"That Eva mommy!" he shouted.

"Oh really? That's Eva's mommy?"


I'm starting to wonder if he's testing me or something. Maybe his inner know-it-all is manifesting early.


It feels a little silly to write a review for a movie that opened almost six weeks ago, especially since I already wrote up a piece about my interpretation of the movie, but, you know, that's where I am these days.

What can I tell you that you don't already know about Inception? Probably not a whole lot, if you're even remotely interested in movies. It is, like many Christopher Nolan films, complex and layered, and rewards looking closely and (I would think) watching it more than once. On one level, it's basically a heist film and even if you view it as just that and nothing more, it's a very good movie. But, as I pointed out in my previous piece, there may be a lot more going on than initially meets the eye.

As far as the performances go, my appreciation of Leonardo DiCaprio continues to increase--a trend that kind of started with Catch Me If You Can but didn't really kick in until The Departed. I do still find his performances a little on the heavy side--he's clearly a guy who takes himself and his profession very seriously--but given the sort of films he does, that's probably appropriate. It was also very nice to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who I quite liked in (500) Days of Summer) take on a more adult role, one which he handled expertly. The one who stole the show for me, though, was Tom Hardy in the role of the "forger," Eames. I've only ever seen him before in Star Trek: Nemesis--which was a pretty forgettable movie overall--but here his combination of charm, dry wit, and occasional seriousness came off just perfectly for me.

There's a lot more to talk about with a film like this, of course, but at this point it's kind of yesterday's news. Besides, the best part about a movie like this is the face-to-face discussions with your friends that you have as you're walking out of the theater, so if you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, grab a couple of friends and get to it.

Viewed: 7/25/2010 | Released: 7/16/2010 | Score: A

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